Tips to reduce spam calls to your phone

Wednesday , March 14, 2018 - 12:00 AM

LESLIE MEREDITH, Special to the Standard-Examiner

In the early days of cellphones, they were immune to telemarketing calls, but no more. A quick survey of my employees reveals they receive at least a couple of such calls a day from real people and from automated services, known as robocalls. The Federal Trade Commission confirms that the problem is growing, largely due to cheap technology.

In its report to Congress at the end of 2017, the FTC said the number of complaints about illegal robocalls increased dramatically. In 2017, it received 375,000 complaints a month, twice the number recorded in the months of the previous year. It blamed Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. If you’ve ever used Facetime, Skype or WhatsApp, you’ve used VoIP. Companies like it because it allows employees to make calls all over the world for free, and that’s appealing to telemarketing companies — legal and illegal — as well.

Technological developments have also allowed illegal telemarketers to easily fake the caller ID information that accompanies their calls, which allows them to conceal their identity from consumers. Reports of neighborhood caller ID spoofing, where the caller displays a caller ID number with the same area code and exchange as the called party, have also increased, the FTC said. This spoofing not only increases the likelihood that you’ll pick up the phone, it makes it difficult for law enforcement to identify the source of these illegal calls.

While my solution has been to ignore calls from unfamiliar numbers and hope a legitimate caller leaves a message, that doesn’t stop the disruptions. Here are additional steps you can take to cut down on these unwanted calls.

If you’ve answered a call only to find it’s an unwanted telemarketer or a robocaller, make note of the number. You can block the number in your phone by going to the list of recent calls in your phone app. iPhone users can tap the blue information icon and then scroll down and choose “Block this Caller.” Those using Android phones will press the number (a long hold) and choose “Block.” This should do the trick, but it could prove time consuming if you have many numbers to block. It’s useless against callers that have blocked their number, which will come up as Unknown Caller.

For an additional layer of protection, you can add an app to your phone that will stop known spammers and scammers from getting through to you. This works much like Google’s web browser security that matches known malicious websites with requests from your IP address to open a webpage. You see a warning and are told to go back to your previous window. Similarly, anti-spam apps will look up incoming calls and try to match it to known spammer numbers.

For instance, Robokiller, an app that won the FTC’s $25,000 prize for best robocall protection, identifies spam calls (human and robotic) and reroutes them to a chatbot to keep them on the line and gather more information for Robokiller’s spam database. Your phone will not ring, but you will receive an alert for each call intercepted by the app. For a chuckle, check out their website (https://www.robokiller.com/) where you can listen to calls between spammers and Robokiller Answer Bots that come in a wide variety of personas, from a gruff Russian man to a true Southern belle. Robokiller isn’t free, but if you are plagued by spammers and want protection from scammers, $25 a year is probably worth it. Robokiller said users can expect to see a 90 percent decrease in unwanted calls.

Once you download the app from the App Store, you will have to change some settings in iPhone, but it’s very simple. Go to "Settings," "Phone" and then tap "Call Blocking & Identification." Turn on “Allow These Apps to Block Calls" and "Provide Caller ID." The company announced the app will be available for Android users this month in the Google Play store.

Leslie Meredith has designed international websites and now runs marketing for a global events company. She writes about personal technology. You can email her at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.

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